As a New Zealander, you’re rarely the loudest voice in the room. Your conversational repertoire usually consists of hobbits, sheep and the haka, and hey, people don’t really want to hear anymore than that unless you’re pronouncing ‘fish and chips’ all funny for the lols. [See also ‘internet connection’: uhn-ter-nit cunn-ick-shun and ‘six’: sex]. You are forever the younger sibling—the meandering rascal descendent banished to a mystical outpost even further estranged from the mainland than Tasmania. And that’s saying something.
But, it seems this week has given you one more thing to talk about. With Australia’s first female Prime Minister bullied out of the Lodge on Wednesday, Kiwis can officially laud something valuable over Australia’s head; we’re not sexist.
I’ve always found the issue of misogyny a difficult one. I understood the theory, the problems, the privileges inherent to it all. I had just never seen it. I grew up living with my father—a man who told me I could do whatever I wanted with my life. I attended both city and country public schools and never once faced a boundary based on my gender. Looking around me, I thought it must be a thing of hyperbole; the connotations of hatred seemed illogical. How could this word exist in a world of such competent women?
I realise now it has a lot to do with my upbringing. Of course my father played a large role, the importance of feminist men can never be underestimated, but the importance of place is all-encompassing. I had never thought about it until this week, but I grew up in a country led by women.
1996 was my first year of school and 1997 was the year our first female Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, took office. This was also the time of Xena: Warrior Princess, and although, yes this is obviously important, we’ll let it take a backseat for a second. I was five years old and when I turned on the TV I saw a woman addressing the nation. It was never a novelty, it had never been anything but the norm. My dad told me I could do anything, I looked to the screen, and I believed him.
It’s not commonly known by Australians—I barely registered it myself—but this was a trend that lasted. Shipley was challenged and beaten in 1999 by Helen Clark, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, and Clark led the country right up until 2008. I have never been a politically charged person and I lay no claim to any kind of deep-seated knowledge here, but all I’m saying is that for the near entirety of my schooling years my home country was led by women, and I have never understood the concept of misogyny. There’s no explicit relation. I never campaigned or rallied for any party or policy. But in saying that, I never had the cause.
I moved to Australia in late 2004. The country was led by John Howard, the heat was stifling, and the grass was hard and dead. I had assumed the countries would be the same. Isolated from the rest of the world as a pair, there should be some degree of camaraderie. Were we not siblings after all? My new home was in the country. I had gone from a school of 2,500 to one with less than a third of that. I left studying the Treaty of Waitangi and the tribal practices of those in the Polynesian Islands and was greeted by a rather rushed account of Gallipoli from an old man who would never look us in the eye. Howard’s History Wars were in full swing, and I was legitimately never told what the Stolen Generations were. This, of course, is not a gender issue, but one to do with place. When your circumstances change you become inquisitive. You notice more.
My little sister is ten years old. She was born in New Zealand, though would barely remember it. My mum still slips in Maori words for the sake of colloquial nostalgia. “Come get some kai in your puku”; “That’s ka pai!”
Julia Gillard was the first woman my little sister would have seen leading us on the television. She also saw her discarded with. When Gillard was called a ‘witch’ or a ‘bitch’, she saw.
Though it’s impossible to trace down elements of your past—those contributing forces that guided you into thinking this or that—there is an undeniable politics of place. As I said, I grew up in a country led by women and never understood the word misogyny. Now, for better or worse, my little sister will.
New Zealanders are rarely the loudest voice in the room, but perhaps, on issues like these, Australia should listen. Sometimes that estranged little sibling can surprise you.